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Hilary hits California and Nevada as airlines cancel flights and issue weather waivers

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Editor’s note: This post was updated with new information.

The storm, once known as Hurricane Hilary, weakened to a post-tropical cyclone this morning, but it is currently making quite a mess of Nevada and Southern California. California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for much of Southern California.

Hilary is already causing flooding and is expected to continue to produce torrential rains and flooding through at least Monday evening. It was the first tropical storm to hit California since 1939.

Hilary track from the National Hurricane Center
Hilary track from the National Hurricane Center. NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER

It’s led to hundreds of canceled flights, and airlines have issued weather waivers for many airports in Mexico, California and even Nevada.

“It’s not a matter of whether there will be disruptions, but how extensive those disruptions will be,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst and president of Atmosphere Research.

“The other concern is recovery,” he continued, “What steps have airlines, especially those with substantial operations in the areas that will be affected by the hurricane, begun to take to minimize having crew and aircraft out of position? How quickly will airlines resume operations once it is safe for them to do so?”

You can see the track that Hilary followed from Mexico below.

Hurricane Hilary track from the National Hurricane Center. NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER
Hurricane Hilary track from the National Hurricane Center. NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER

U.S. airlines issued weather waivers for those traveling through Los Cabos International Airport (SJD), Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas or the following California airports:

  • Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR)
  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
  • Long Beach Airport (LGB)
  • Ontario International Airport (ONT)
  • Palm Springs International Airport (PSP)
  • San Diego International Airport (SAN)
  • Santa Barbara Airport (SBA)
  • John Wayne Airport in Orange County  (SNA)

All the major airlines issued weather waivers for those airports for various days through as late as Aug. 28, though some are being more flexible than others. Those airlines include American Airlines, Alaska, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and JetBlue.

Hillary travel advisory page from Delta. DELTA AIR LINES
The Hurricane Hilary travel advisory page from Delta. DELTA AIR LINES

That means you can reschedule your trip without change fees, and some airlines will also allow you to rebook without having to pay any fare differences, though that’s not true of all.

Most airlines will make you keep the same city pairs as your originally booked, though check with your airline as they may be willing to adjust that too. It never hurts to ask.

Tickets must be in the same cabin and between the same cities as originally booked. Travel will likely have to take place within one year of the original ticket’s dates.

Here’s the language from American Airlines, for example, “Changes must be booked by August 21, 2023. Travel must be completed within 1 year of original ticket date; difference in fare may apply.”

Remember that, as a rule, airlines and hotels aren’t obligated to offer you compensation if your flight is delayed or canceled due to Mother Nature or an “Act of God” — in other words, weather.

Flight disruptions from Hurricane Hilary


There were severe flight disruptions from Hilary. Airlines canceled as many as a quarter of their flights Sunday. Southwest has canceled another 4% of its flights Monday, as of 7:49 a.m. EST, according to Flight Aware. Another 14% of flights into San Diego International Airport (SAN) are canceled Monday so far, and there have been ongoing severe disruptions out of Los Cabos International Airport (SJD) in Mexico, Harry Reid Las Vegas International (LAS) and all the airports of Southern California.

“I’m worried about flooding,” said John E. DiScala, the travel news site Johnny Jet founder and editor-in-chief, “I was in Palm Springs two years ago and walked into a grocery store on a cloudy day. I came out 10-15 minutes later, and the parking lot and streets were flooded. It was shocking. It definitely gave me perspective on how fast these things can happen and how important it is to be prepared.”

Theme parks closing

It’s not just flights and airports that were impacted. Some theme parks in southern California closed on Sunday, Aug. 20, or closed early. As of this update, all are currently planning to reopen on Aug. 21, though that is subject to weather and other local conditions. We’ll update if we learn any will remain closed Monday.

  • Knott’s Berry Farm: Closed Aug. 20
  • SeaWorld San Diego: Closed Aug. 20
  • Sesame Place San Diego: Closed Aug. 20
  • San Diego Zoo: Closed Aug. 20
  • Legoland California Resort: Closed Aug. 20
  • Disneyland: Closed early on Aug. 20, Disney California Adventure Park closed at 9 p.m., and Disneyland Park closed at 10 p.m.

Related: What happens when Disney World is hit by a hurricane 

If you are impacted by Hilary

A rough sea is seen from Cabo San Lucas, Baja California State, Mexico,
A rough sea from Cabo San Lucas, Baja California State, Mexico, as rain and gusts of wind of Hurricane Hilary reach the area on Aug. 19, 2023. ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

If your flight is canceled, remember that you are entitled to a full refund back to the payment method you used.

Here are a few of our top tips if a hurricane impacts your travel.

  • Call your airline as soon as possible. If you are at the airport already, go to the service desk and get in line, but you should also be calling the customer service number.
  • We also suggest that you also contact them via social media if there’s a long wait. Sometimes, an airline’s social media representative will help you faster than a phone or in-person agent. You have to use every tool at your disposal when things go south.
  • Many airlines now have live chat capabilities to help navigate delays and cancellations.
  • You should also have an alternate plan (or two) in the back of your mind in case a flight gets canceled or delayed. I also look to see what other airlines are flying the route I’m booked in case there might be an alternate airline. This way, you’ll know what to ask for if you need to be rebooked.
  • Also, save all the receipts for the expenses you incur during delays or cancellations and save screenshots showing your severely delayed or canceled flights along with the reason displayed, if one is shown. You’ll want excellent documentation for trip delay or cancellation claims, and in the case of larger system meltdowns like the one Southwest passengers experienced during the holidays.

We have a complete guide to everything you need to know if your flight is delayed or canceled here.

Related: 3 things to do if your flight is delayed

Trip insurance

If you booked travel to a destination that could be affected by Hilary, look to see how you booked and paid for your trip. You may have used a credit card that will reimburse you even if the airline or hotels you booked won’t.

If you paid for your airfare or similar on credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, and The Platinum Card® from American Express offer built-in trip protection that ensures you won’t be responsible for many expenses resulting from a lengthy trip delay or cancellation. You simply pay upfront for things like hotels and car rentals, and you may be eligible for reimbursement afterward if you paid with an eligible card.

Remember that most extra travel insurance policies don’t cover trip cancellation if you preemptively cancel your trip because you just don’t like the weather forecast. Right now, the airlines are fairly flexible, so the best insurance is adjusting your plans proactively if you can.

Bottom line

Hilary is moving into Nevada on Monday, but leaving torrential rains and flooding in its wake.

The storm disrupted flights, and airlines have issued weather waivers allowing customers to make necessary changes. It remains to be seen how airlines will recover from the likely flight delays and cancellations we can expect as the storm moves through the United States.

“Travelers can be forgiven if they have a sense of “uh oh, here we go again” regarding not just airline disruptions but the post-storm recovery,” Harteveldt said.

This is a developing story and will be updated with the latest news.